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Want to learn more about the Rebecca Riots? Visit Caffi Beca in Efailwen, Clynderwen.
Want to learn more about the Rebecca Riots? Visit Caffi Beca in Efailwen, Clynderwen.
The Rebecca Riots
The farmers and peasants of the Preselau were enraged, in the spring of 1839, by Thomas Bullin’s intention to erect a tollgate at Efail-wen to add on his already existing collection of tollgates along South Wales.
Toll payments would add to the hardship already suffered by the farming community following a series of bad harvests. They could not avoid the tolls on their way to various markets and to collect lime from Ludchurch, below Narberth, which was essential to be spread on their rancid lands.
Following a number of fiery meetings, held in the barn on Glynsaithmaen farmyard, it was decided to attack and utterly destroy the tollgate. This was done not just once but three times until Thomas Bullin was forced to abandon his intention.
The farmers felt that justice was on their side because tollgates were an unnecessary burden. Profits went to the pockets of the owners rather than being spent on improving the roads.
The tollgate was initially destroyed under the cover of darkness on May 13, 1839 and again on June 6 with sledgehammers and hatchets. The third and final attack took place on July 17 in broad daylight. The large crowd was heard referring to each other by the names of the women who had lent them their petticoats. The name heard most often was that of Beca whose petticoat Tomos Rees or Twm Carnabwth wore. Twm was recognised as the leader of the mob. They had also blackened their faces and wore horsehair and ferns under their bonnets.
Another explanation for the choice of the name Beca to describe the rioters, and possibly in an attempt to give respectability to the campaign, was the 60th verse from Chapter 24 of the Book of Genesis: “And they blessed Rebecca and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions and let thy seed possess the gates of those which hate them”.
Though a bounty was placed on the head of Tomos Rees if he were to be turned in to the authorities he was never betrayed. Morris David, a lame 80-year-old smithy, was taken prisoner when he could not run away from the stricken tollgate fast enough. However, the smithy never mentioned the pivotal role played by Twm during those months he spent in Haverfordwest jail before the charges against him were dropped due to lack of evidence.
Who was Twm Carnabwth?
Tomos Rees was a tough, rough and ready character, in his early 30s and well known as a pugilist at local fairs, when he took part in the assault on the Efail-wen gate. He lived in a cottage, built in one night, near Glynsaithmaen farm under the shadow of Foel Cwm Cerwyn. The cottage was known by two names - Carnabwth and Treial. Twm would work on local farms as the need arose.
In 1839 Twm and Rachel Rees had three children – Elisabeth (11), Daniel (8) and John (3). Anne would be born in 1841. We do not know for certain what became of the children. Though many of today’s local inhabitants vouch that they are descendants of Twm’s cousin's.No one professes to be a direct descendant. Nevertheless, when a community book was launched at Caffi Beca in December 2011 – Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows – which contains a chapter about Twm, two of his great-great-grandsons were present, one of whom lives in Caerphilly and the other at Port Talbot.
In 1847 Twm lost an eye in a fracas at Stambar Inn near Pentregalar close by. Two years previously he was expelled from Bethel Baptist Chapel, Mynachlog-ddu and was not readmitted as a member until 1867 - 22 years later. Tomos Rees died in 1876 and buried at Bethel Cemetery. A frivolous verse has been engraved on his gravestone giving the impression it was written by himself after his death!
Rachel, his wife, died four years earlier and buried in another part of the cemetery. There is some evidence that Twm remarried in the meantime though there is no certainty that this actually took place.
Twm Carnabwth is regarded as a folk hero on account of his part in the first Rebecca insurgence though he did not take part in any subsequent unrest as the rebellion spread across South Wales.
Tomos Rees’ gravestone can be visited as well as Glynsaithmaen and Carnabwth. The actual tollgate location is marked with a stone on the roadside some 200 yards to the south of Caffi Beca
Battle of the Preselau
If it were not for the stand made by local people at the end of the 1940s we would not be able to walk unhindered across the Preselau ridge from Foel Drygarn to Foel Eryr today.
The government of the day wished to turn the mountain slopes into a permanent military training ground. However, strong opposition was formed under the leadership of the Nonconformist ministers and the local schoolmasters.
Though the mountains were used for military exercises by British and American troops during the Second World War, to welcome the military on a permanent basis was another matter. The character of the area would be changed, the sense of Welshness would be lost and centuries of history would be despoiled overnight.
Over a period of two years, a tenacious battle was fought under the aegis of the Precelly Defence Committee. Eventually, the battle was won and in the words of the poet, Waldo Williams, “the beast kept from the ramparts and the well kept from grime”.
Many of the stories of the period have become part of folk memory and the one incident more than any other that has been ingrained in people’s minds was the meeting between two of the local ministers and two of the military generals. Both the Rev Joseph James and the Rev R. Parri-Roberts insisted on offering a prayer each before any discussions took place. Then ‘Parri Bach’s’ response when it was pointed out to him that there was no agricultural value to the mountain slopes apart from nurturing calves and lambs was - “we nurture souls in these areas”.
The two strangers were floored as they realised the Battle of the Preselau had been raised to a higher level than the battles they were used to dealing with. The history of the battle has been chronicled within the covers of a book - ‘Battle of the Preselau. The campaign to safeguard the ‘sacred’ Pembrokeshire hills 1946-1948’ by Hefin Wyn
Reference to the successful campaign has been noted on two plaques placed on each end of the Preselau – at Bwlchgwynt on the highest point of the B4329 at the western end and at Croes Mihangel on the lower slopes of Foel Drygarn on the eastern end.
The bluestone outcrop at Carn Meini, near Mynachlog-ddu, is one of the area’s foremost historical attractions. Geologists and archaeologists agree that bluestones from the area have been used to form part of the Stonehenge Circle on Salisbury Plain. But there is a fierce debate as to how they were taken to the western parts of England.
Some insist that an ice glacier was the most likely means of transport whereas others contend the bluestones were moved by man’s brute strength to the coastline and then transported by sea on rafts as far as Bristol. Numerous books and learned articles have been written enhancing the two theories regarding the movement of the bluestones as both camps endeavour to disprove each other’s theory.
Interestingly, an attempt was made to prove the manual transport theory across land and sea as part of the millennium celebrations. A bluestone was dragged from Mynachlog-ddu to the coastline. However, unfortunately, the stone fell from the raft onto the seabed. When lifted to the surface, with great difficulty through the use of Royal Navy engineering expertise, the experiment was abandoned. By now the stricken stone has found a home at the National Botanical Gardens at Llanarthne in the Towy Valley.
However, did such a misfortune prove there is no credence to the human transport theory? Or were men in the early centuries far more careful and knowledgeable than their modern day compatriots? The deliberations continue!
What is far more interesting by now is the speculation as to the significance of the unique bluestone – the speckled dolomite. Some are of the opinion that primitive man believed in their healing properties based on the presence of wells with names such as Coughing Well and Oxen Well in the vicinity. They were thus regarded as sacred stones.
Climb to the top of Carn Meini and lie down on Carreg yr Allor (the Altar Stone).
Gors Fawr/Meini Gŵyr
The Gors Fawr circle of stones, opposite Penrhos, in Mynachlog-ddu, dates from the Bronze Age. It is sometimes known as the Trallwyn Circle. It is generally thought that the various stones form a stone calendar with their exact location inferring sunrises and the appearance of various stars. This was the method used by people of early times to ascertain when to sow and when to harvest. Some insist that other stones have been aligned with some of the Gors Fawr stones as far as the horizon along the Preselau ridge. That would add to the astronomical pattern known to the people of the period between 2,500 - 800 BC.
The location of Meini Gŵyr (crooked or tilting stones) can be found within a mile of Caffi Beca near Glandy Cross. But only two of the 17 stones thought to be there originally still stands. According to the antiquarian, Edward Lhuyd, there were 15 stones still in place towards the end of the seventeenth century. It is likely they were associated with religious ceremonies. The interpretive panel at the entrance includes all that is known about the stone circle.
If you wish to know more about ancient monuments in the area then a few of the books produced by E. T. Lewis would be a good starting point such as Mynachlog-ddun a Guide to its Antiquities, E. L. Jones and Sons 1967 and Local Heritage from Efail-wen to Whitland, Lodwick and Sons, 1976.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Waldo Williams would have been a familiar sight cycling along the local lanes in his short trousers and yellow cloak whether it would be mid-winter or summer. It was quite possible the poet was on his way to hold a night school or whiling away the time in the area of his childhood.
Waldo moved to Mynachlog-ddu from Haverfordwest when he was seven years of age in 1911 following his father’s appointment as the local headmaster. During the four years, he spent in the area he learned Welsh fluently before moving to Llandysilio nearby. Many of the poems in his single volume of poetry, Dail Pren (Tree Leaves) refer to the area, its landmarks, and people.
Carreg Waldo on Rhos-fach Common, Mynachlog-ddu is a standing stone erected in memory of the poet, the pacifist, Quaker, and patriot. It must be seen. Waldo was buried in the family gravestone at Blaenconin Baptist Chapel cemetery in Llandysilio.
For more information go to www.waldowilliams.com
Listen to the mellifluous flow of the vowels as you hear the Welsh language being spoken. There has been no shortage of academics that have studied the dialect over the years noting the interchange of vowels and the emphasis placed on certain vowels as they become elongated. Many poets have drawn attention to the peculiarities of the dialect and none more so than W. R. Evans. Indeed, one of the area’s contemporary poets, Wyn Owens, has compiled a yet unpublished dialect dictionary of which large extracts have been included in the volume Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows published by Cymdeithas Cwm Cerwyn 2011.
There are several Nonconformist chapels in the vicinity established by Baptists and Independents. The oldest is Rhydwilym, established in the 1660s during the relentless persecution of those who did not wish to worship in the established church. One of the foremost former members was the Rev Thomas Phillips, a minister at Bloomsbury Chapel, London, from 1905 to 1928, prior to his appointment as Principal of the Baptist College, Cardiff. Another former member was the Parch E. Llwyd Williams, who wrote an autobiography of the theologian from humble beginnings. ‘Ernie Lan’ was also a distinguished man of letters in his own right. He won both the chair and crown at the National Eisteddfod. He published a number of books associated with the area.
Bethel Chapel, Mynachlog-ddu, was established in 1794 by members of Rhydwilym as the membership of that chapel grew. One of the most notable of ministers, over a period of 43 years, was the Rev R. Parri-Roberts who hailed from Anglesey. He played a prominent part in the Battle of the Preselau. The Independents built Nebo Chapel on the outskirts of Efail-wen in 1861. The Rev Tegryn Phillips, who ministered from 1870 to 1928, would hold a ‘Small Court’ on Saturday afternoons prior to communion Sunday, in the company of a few of the deacons, to deliberate whether members who had morally transgressed should be re-accepted as full members. One of the most famous former members would probably be Clwydwenfro, the Rev J. Lloyd James, who wrote the history of the mother chapel, Hebron. He spent his career ministering at Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire and March, Cambridgeshire.